As the AEther Salon came to an end, Bookworm watched Tepic with concern. She’d heard from Jimmy and Myrtil that he was still working at the factory, despite attempts to keep him in several places. When she saw him enter the Salon building, his gaunt face and miasma of blacking odor confirmed their news. She’d hidden her distress during the Salon, but once it was over, and she saw Tepic stagger to his feet, she decided she’d best do something. Canergak had attended the Salon, too, so she hoped to be able to settle things right away.
Walking over to Tepic, she took him by the arm, trying to hold him steady. “Tepic, come with me, please.” She glanced back over her shoulder. “You, too, Mr. Canergak, if you can spare the time.”
The asylum administrator shrugged. “Very well.”
Bookworm guided Tepic to a bench just outside the Salon, deposited him on it, and sat down beside him. Canergak stood nearby, watching. “Tepic, I understand you’re still working at the factory?”
The boy looked at her vaguely. “Am I?”
“You’ve been seen there. Don’t you remember?”
“You are still working to pay off the debt, of course,” Canergak put in, causing Tepic to exclaim, “Yes!”
“But Tepic, you don’t have to,” she said insistently.
She sighed. “Mr. Canergak, can you shed any light on this? Why is he not understanding that he has fulfilled his promise?”
“I did tell him that he did not have to return to the factory to pay off the remainder of the debt that remains. But the fact is, he has not paid the debt in full.” He shrugged. “It is his choice at this point.”
“Remainder… remains… promise…”
“But he’s ruining his health!” she insisted. “And Dr. Sonnerstein has said he will cover any further expenses.”
Canergak raised an eyebrow. “Did he now? It would have been wiser of him to tell me that himself.”
“He may not have had the time,” she replied, hedging a bit.
“I don’t think you need concern yourself,” Canergak said. “The debt will be paid soon enough.”
“Debt… must pay… honor…”
Bookworm frowned. “I’d rather make it sooner than that. Let *me* pay it.”
He shrugged, a hint of smugness in his posture. “You can try to, certainly. I’m not going to stand in your way, but neither will I help. Have a good day, Miss Hienrichs.” With that, he turned and walked away, leaving Bookworm frowning after him.
Finally, she looked down at the fox-boy. “Tepic, will you stop working at the factory if I pay the remainder?”
He slowly looked up at her, and said weakly, “…No?”
“Tomorrow… tomorrow… and tomorrow?”
“What does that mean?” she asked gently.
She signed. “I can’t talk to Beryl now, though.”
He seemed to consider that a moment. “Mr. Tenk? Pocket… Maggie…”
Bookworm mulled on that a while, but couldn’t work out what he might be trying to tell her. “Are you sure you can last until the debt is paid?” she finally asked.
“No, Tepic, the debt isn’t mounting,” she hastened to say. “We’ll make sure of that.”
“…Promise… not… understand… Canergak knows.”
“I’m sure he does, but he won’t tell me!” Bookworm replied in frustration.
“Must… go back… Clinic… others… lookin’… worried.”
“Yes. Go back and rest. I’ll go with you.” She helped him to his feet, and they started off. They went first to the train station, but found it empty. “Never… tram…” Tepic complained as he started south. Bookworm couldn’t help but chuckle a bit.
It took a while, at Tepic’s slow pace, but eventually, they made it to Dr. Kaligawa’s clinic. Tepic fumbled for a moment, then opened the door quietly. “Shhuuussh,” he whispered. “He’s… asleep.” He nodded to an urchin slumped back in a chair, snoring gently. Bookworm nodded and helped Tepic into a bed, tucking the covers over him. “Sleep well, Tepic,” she whispered.
“G’night, Miszz Book…” He trailed off, and was very quickly asleep. Bookworm tiptoed out and quietly shut the door, taking her worries home with her.